Sonoma fire claims last remnant of Nagasawa winery

Round Barn at Fountaingrove. Don Meacham Collection / Sonoma County Library

The Tubbs Fire in the Sonoma County city of Santa Rosa, Calif. on Oct. 9 claimed the last remnant of the Fountaingrove Winery pioneered by Kanaye Nagasawa, as well as the adjacent Paradise Ridge Winery that housed an exhibit dedicated to the Japanese immigrant pioneer once called the “Wine King” of California by locals and his native Kagoshima.

The “Round Barn,” built in 1899, was part of the 600-acre estate given to Nagasawa by Thomas Lake Harris, said to be a charismatic religious leader who Nagasawa followed from New York to Santa Rosa.

Nagasawa, who is said to have introduced wine to England, Europe and Japan, died in 1934, leaving the land to a nephew and niece. However, given the racist Alien Land Laws of the time that banned Japanese nationals from owning land in California, the ownership of Fountaingrove Winery was left in the hands of a non-Japanese trustee, who obtained it in a land grab.

According to Karen Ichiji Perkins of Oakland, Calif., the great great grandniece of Nagasawa, at its peak 90 percent of the wine in Sonoma County was produced by Fountaingrove Winery. The Byck family, who established the adjacent Paradise Ridge Winery in 1978, honored the legacy of Nagasawa with an exhibit on his life in their tasting room.

Now both the iconic structure of Nagasawa’s winery and the exhibit are gone.

“The fact that it was the last remaining structure of the winery means a lot,” said Perkins. “Seeing that round barn gave me feelings about the place.”

Her aunt, 90-year-old Amy Mori of Sunnyvale, Calif., also reflected upon the loss. “She said to me, ‘You know, Karen, it’s sad, but we have to remember nothing lasts forever,’” Perkins said.

The Nagasawa Community Park was dedicated on July 28, 2007 in Santa Rosa, attended by some 200 people.

Storied History

Kanaye Nagasawa. courtesy of Karen Perkins

According to a historical account of Nagasawa on the Paradise Ridge Winery Website, Hikosuke Isonaga, the son of a samurai of the Satsuma clan, left Japan in 1864 at age 12 to study Western science in Scotland.

“During this time, he befriended Lady Oliphant and her son Lawrence, who were disciples of Thomas Lake Harris, a charismatic religious leader,” stated the account. “These two disciples introduced Nagasawa to Harris. Following Harris to New York, Nagasawa was one of the first eight Japanese” to arrive in America.

“It was then that Hikosuke Isonaga, son of a wealthy Confucian scholar, stone carver, and astronomer, became for the rest of his life Kanaye Nagasawa,” the Paradise Ridge Winery account stated. Nagasawa, at 23, arrived in Santa Rosa in 1875.

“Nagasawa’s task was cultivating grapes and sustaining the colony,” the account continued. “The land purchased was a 600 acre estate in beautiful Sonoma County. Eventually, the utopian community disbanded, and Harris gave Nagasawa the entire estate, now totaling over 2,000 acres of prime agricultural land.”

The monetary loss of the Nagasawa land after the land grab is said to be in the millions.

“The history of Kanaye Nagasawa is a truly Asian American story of pioneering spirit, triumphal achievement, bittersweet loss, and reconciliation,” the Paradise Ridge Winery account concludes.

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